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A former Conservative councillor is urging people across Lichfield and Burntwood to stand as independent candidates.
Joanne Grange resigned from Lichfield District Council in a row over the way planning policies were being applied.
Her departure sparked a war of words with Conservative leader Cllr Mike Wilcox who said councillors should “rise above self interest” – a comment which led to Miss Grange insisting that she could easily have carried on “eating the biscuits and remaining on the gravy train” rather than standing up for her beliefs.
But despite resigning in July 2018, the former Tory councillor could be back in the chamber this year as an independent representative for the Chadsmead ward.
The prospective councillor said she believed only a shift from dominant parties on councils could resolve many of the issues facing Lichfield District Council.
“Decisions are made by the leader and his Cabinet”
“With everything that is happening in Westminster it appears that many people feel politically homeless,” she explained. “At a local level the same is true and many of the residents of Lichfield and Burntwood that I have spoken to seem to be at a loss to know which way to vote in the upcoming May council elections.
“Anyone following local news will be familiar with councillors and their undisclosed personal interests, the utter waste of our money on the failed Friarsgate scheme and the complete lack of imagination about what to do instead with the same old ideas being recycled under a different name.
“Then there’s the seemingly endless numbers of new houses without the necessary associated infrastructure, and the development of new retirement apartments being a major growth area while local families are priced out of Lichfield due to the lack of sensibly priced houses.
“I have commented before that I believe that a lot of the issues with Lichfield District Council are down to a power imbalance, and that my old party’s majority on the council means that decisions are made by the leader and his cabinet, rubber-stamped by their party colleagues, with very little debate or input from others who may have a different perspective on issues.
“Certainly, for the Conservative group, discussion happens at private group meetings behind closed doors with any questions that are to be asked at open council meeting generally being agreed in advance at these closed meetings. This doesn’t seem to me to be a good example of democracy in action.”
“This election is ripe for independents”
Mrs Grange’s views echo those of the Electoral Reform Society who said it had concerns over so-called ‘one-party councils’ – with Lichfield District Council being highlighted as an area with a high number of uncontested seats and being dominated one political group.
“The persistence of uncontested seats and one-party dominated councils at the local level is a cause for concern across England in terms of quality of public services, value for money and government responsiveness to citizen needs. One particular high-risk area is the integrity of government contracting when controls of corruption are weak.”Electoral Reform Society
Mrs Grange said residents need to decide the way they want decision-making to be carried out on local issues going forward by standing as candidates or supporting alternative representatives.
“The elections in May give Lichfield and Burntwood residents both the opportunity and the responsibility to elect councillors who will be truly responsive to residents’ needs, who will make decisions based on their love for the district and who will be robust in their desire to do the right thing rather than simply voting as instructed by their party group leader.
“We do, of course, already have some councillors who fit this description but we need more.
“We also need a better balance so that the council is not simply dominated by one party who can force through decisions.
“One way to achieve this would be for independent candidates to stand for election.
“Against the backdrop of voters feeling politically homeless, independent candidates may be a natural choice for voters who do not feel they can vote for their traditional party.
“One current councillor has told me that they believe this election is ripe for independents and in my view having independent candidates may be one way to oust the incumbents and achieve the all-important balance.”
“Ensure that there are no uncontested seats”
Mrs Grange has urged people who are considering standing to liaise with each other to ensure voters have clarity.
“It would be superb if there could be an independent candidate in each ward to ensure that there are no uncontested seats,” she said. “But ideally not more than one in each ward to ensure that the vote isn’t split.
“To avoid the potential for votes being shared, I’d urge any potential independent candidates to make their intention to stand known in their community so that they are not fighting against another independent.
“The deadline for receipt of nominations is 3rd April. Unlike Parliamentary elections there is no deposit to pay to stand as a council candidate and there are some useful guides on the Lichfield District Council website.”
Mrs Grange will join another former Conservative colleague in standing as an independent after Cllr Ben Rayner confirmed he would not seek re-election to Lichfield District Council and would instead stand against his former colleagues in parish council elections as an independent candidate.